Thunder-Spurs Game 6: Oklahoma City proves it’s ready, advances to finals

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Since the 1999 season, only three teams have represented the Western Conference in the NBA finals — the Dallas Mavericks, the Los Angeles Lakers and the San Antonio Spurs.

In the first round of the 2012 playoffs, the Thunder crushed Dallas. In the second round they showed they were well ahead of the Lakers.

And on Wednesday night they proved they are ready to be champions. They showed they are the worthy continuation of that legacy.

The Thunder came back from 18 down, 15 at the half against a veteran and feisty Spurs team to win 107-99 and take the series 4-2. After the Spurs won 20 games in a row the Thunder picked up their play at both ends — their defense cut off dribble penetration and their offensive ball movement improved — and OKC swept the Spurs out of the playoffs in four straight. There was nothing Gregg Popovich or the Spurs could do about it — the Thunder were the better team.

The NBA finals will begin Tuesday in Oklahoma City (they had a better record than either team left in the Eastern Conference).

San Antonio did not go easily or quietly — they made adjustments to free up Tony Parker and get him penetrating again and the Spurs raced out to an early lead. Parker initiated his offense earlier and when he did wait for the high pick the player (Tim Duncan, usually) came from farther away off the baseline to make the Thunder bigs cover more ground. It worked. Parker had 17 points in the first quarter alone (he finished with 29) and the Spurs led by 18 at one point in the first quarter and 15 at the half.

We tend to think of these Spurs as young — Kevin Durant is just 23 and their core is all under 25 — but they have been through the playoff wars. And they used that youth and veteran skill to change the second half. Once again the long arms and fast legs of the Thunder seemed to be in the way of every Spurs player.

“We can’t have their legs, we can’t have their energy,” the Spurs’ Manu Ginobili said after the game in a televised press conference. “I can’t jump as high.”

The Thunder have grown up — they grew up in this series as their ball movement improved game to game. They withstood the Spurs storm in Game 5 and in this game you knew a second half run was coming.

Oklahoma City did it with defense — they are long and athletic and disrupt shots and passing lanes. They close out fast. They took away the Spurs easy looks. The Spurs shot 32 percent in the third and were outscored 14, they shot 33 percent in the third and were outscored by nine.

Durant led the charge with 14 of his 34 in the third quarter when the Spurs lead disappeared. But it was every Thunder player — Westbrook slashing through the lane, James Harden with a key wing three, Derek Fisher doing what he does in big games with a three from the corner. It was a team win.

Right now, the Thunder are playing better than either team out of the East. They have the athleticism to match the Heat, and Boston’s offense has not had to deal with this kind of length and athleticism. OKC has an amazing offense, a good defense, great young talent…

And they are not wide-eyed kids. They have paid their dues the past three years, learning how win, how to get here.

Right now the Thunder are poised to win the NBA title. It’s not that simple, but it’s theirs for the taking.

James Harden broke on of his youth camper’s ankles (VIDEO)

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It’s around the time of summer when NBA players (and coaches, and college coaches, and a whole lot of other people) are holding youth basketball camps.

I went to them as a kid (John Wooden’s was the best) and like me, these youth will have the memories of a lifetime, even if they move away from playing hoops someday. Especially this boy, who will forever be able to look back at this video from camp of James Harden breaking his ankles. (Via Houston Rockets Instagram)

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Meanwhile at @jharden13’s camp…😅

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Meanwhile, over at Dwyane Wade‘s camp, he was reminding some young children he is the best shot blocking guard of all time.

 

Could Anthony Davis someday play for hometown Bulls? “I’d definitely consider it”

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Not every player wants to go home.

LeBron James returned to Cleveland (for a while). Kawhi Leonard and Paul George pushed to get back to Southern California. However, plenty of players see the return to their home town as more curse than blessing — it takes a maturity to be the face of the city, to not let hanging with your old buddies get in the way of off-season workouts, to handle everyone you went to high school with asking you for tickets to the game. A player has to be ready for a lot to go home.

Would Anthony Davis consider a return to Chicago to lead the Bulls?

He wouldn’t rule it out. Someday. Here’s what Davis said to K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune.

“I mean, (this is) definitely hometown,” he said. “If the opportunity ever presents itself and when that time comes, I’d definitely consider it.”

That does not mean next summer. Technically Davis is a free agent next summer, however, he is all but certain to re-sign with the Lakers (it’s possible things go Dwight Howard/Steve Nash bad in Los Angeles and Davis wants out, but it’s highly unlikely). Davis pushed his way to Los Angeles to win and lead the biggest brand in basketball down the line, to have his name in the rafters with legendary big men (Wilt, Kareem, Shaq). He’s not bolting that after one season.

Could he finish his career in Chicago? Maybe. I’d say the same thing about Stephen Curry with Charlotte, but we are too many years from that to make any kind of prediction.

However, Davis didn’t slam the door shut. Maybe someday that will be good news for Bulls fans.

Newly minted Wizards GM Tommy Sheppard quickly faces Bradley Beal questions

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While ownership danced with Tim Connley in Denver and Masai Ujiri in Toronto, Tommy Sheppard spent the past few months trying to clean up a mess of a Washington Wizards roster and, more importantly, their messed up salary cap situation.

There was only so much Sheppard could do considering John Wall‘s supermax extension kicks in next season (and runs four seasons) and the team will pay Ian Mahinmi $15.5 million. However, Sheppard got Washington below the tax number by trading Dwight Howard and letting three players — Tomas Satoransky, Bobby Portis, and Jabari Parker — just walk. He then tried to add inexpensive and interesting talent to the roster, such as Rui Hachimura, Davis Bertans, and Moritz Wagner. It was all those moves that ultimately got the “interim” tag taken off his GM job title, reports Chase Hughes at NBC Sports Washington.

How Sheppard navigated the Wizards through the draft and free agency was central in why managing partner Ted Leonsis decided to elevate him to the long-term post. The last several weeks were treated as a “trial run,” according to a person familiar with the process.

However, the biggest test comes next Friday, and how Sheppard and Wizards ownership handle it will define the course of the franchise for years.

On July 26 (Friday), the Wizards can — and by all indications will — offer Bradley Beal a three-year, $111 million contract extension.

Beal likely turns it down.

That’s the growing sense around the league. While part of his motivation may be questions about the future direction in Washington, there are also cold financial reasons to say no — Beal makes more money if he waits. Maybe even to the point of becoming a free agent in 2021. Our own Dan Feldman broke it down this way (future estimates based on salary cap projections by the NBA):

• Sign this 2019 extension: $111.8 over three years ($35.1 million per year)
• Make All-NBA next season and sign a super-max extension in 2020: $250 million over five years ($50 million per year)
• Become a free agent and re-sign with Wizards on regular-max in 2021: $214 million over five years ($43 million per year)
• Become a free agent and re-sign with Wizards on super-max in 2021: $250 million over five years ($50 million per year)
• Leave Wizards in 2021: $159 million over four years ($40 million per year)

Beal can afford to bet on himself and wait, he just turned 26 and has not had the kind of injury issues that would make him think he needs to take the security now (he has played 82 games each of the last two seasons).

How do Sheppard — and Wizards’ management — react when Beal says no is the question. That is the real test Sheppard faces.

Part of that reaction will be based on what Beal and his representatives say: Do they turn down the offer and say Beal wants to be traded?

Or, do they turn down the offer and say, “Beal wants to stay but will wait because he wants a super-max contract?” (Beal finished seventh in All-NBA guard voting, with the top six making the All-NBA, he is right on the cusp.) This may be the most likely option, Beal cannot get the super-max contract if traded.

If/when Beal turns the Wizards down, Sheppard’s phone will start ringing again with teams testing the trade market waters for Beal. There is tremendous interest in him from across the league.

How Sheppard handles those calls will start to set the tone for what is next in Washington. What the Wizards do with Beal — and John Wall, out for the season with a torn Achilles and already on his super-max — will define Wizards’ basketball for years to come.

Kosta Koufos heading to Europe, agrees to terms with CSKA Moscow

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After spending 11 seasons in the NBA, the last four years in Sacramento, Kosta Koufos has found a new home for next season.

In Moscow. With EuroLeague powerhouse CSKA Moscow.

Koufos struggled to fit in his big-man game with the new up-tempo Kings last season. Add to that the NBA moving toward “small ball” — which is more about skill and mobility than size — Koufos has decided to head overseason. He’s making more than the NBA veteran minimum, which is likely what he would have gotten from an NBA squad.

All but the elite big men in the NBA are finding reduced demand and with that reduced pay scale, so good on Koufos for doing what is best for himself.